Advising: When Process Is The Problem

What turned up in a Creative Commons search

A post about advising, a topic we haven’t talked much on this blog — an example from last year is here — but which, depending on where you work, may be seen by your superiors as the panacea for everything from retention to student psycho-social dysfunction. Hence the push for advising to evolve from “transactional” to “transformational” (always be wary of alliteration). Since students nominally attend college to obtain an education, and faculty are the ones who formally provide that education, the responsibility for advising students frequently falls to them.

My university recently hired a consultant to evaluate the advising landscape on campus. His report highlighted several aspects of advising that are, in his view, in need of improvement:

  • Constant churn in academic administrators.
  • Absence of accountability for university employees whose duties include advising, whether in a supervisory or “point of service” capacity.
  • Advising mechanisms designed without input from the people who hypothetically need to be advised (students).
  • Information relevant to the student academic experience that is generated by one part of the university is not shared with other parts, something I discussed in 2012.
  • Online resources that for students are difficult to locate and inconvenient to use.

Note that faculty lack the authority or resources to solve any of these problems.

So what is a faculty member to do, especially in the midst of a requirement-heavy curriculum that presents the academic path through college as a series of boxes to check off, instead of as a process that is heavily influenced by the student’s choice of social interactions? Something that I am slowly migrating toward — initially reflected in the print and digital promotional material that I have designed for my department — is to present options to students in the form of “here is the choice a past student made in this situation, and this is where that student ended up. Your results might differ, but we know that this outcome is at least possible.” I am hoping that giving advisees concrete examples like this will more effectively communicate what might be beneficial for them to know.